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Mental Edge

The height of ambition for women, but why? They may see tallness as indicator of healthy mate

By Tim Friend

Female humans appear to be no different from any other species of animal when it comes to mate selection. Size -- in this case height --counts.

That women prefer taller men is nothing new. Short guys, unless they're rich, powerful or famous, have come by this knowledge the hard way. And
women all over the world openly profess desires for height in personal ads.

The question is, why? Is it the actual inches that get the female flushing, or does height represent something else, such as wealth or education?

Research in today's Nature by scientists in Poland and England suggests height itself plays a key role in turning a female's head. (If you are a fish, depending on your species, a particularly tall dorsal fin or a
long tail might do the trick.)

Some experts, including James Gould of Princeton University, say there's good evidence that the preference for height by female humans, and long dorsal fins or tails by fish, is hard-wired in the brain and translates to good health.

''When height is an indicator of health, this is not surprising, and if females are programmed to look for health, they would end up with taller males,'' Gould says. ''It's entirely plausible this is true.''

The study's cold statistics show that taller men are more likely to have children than shorter men and are more likely to be married. Conversely, childless bachelors are significantly shorter than married
men, says Robin I. M. Dunbar of the University of Liverpool.

The more successful breeders were 1.2 inches taller on average than childless men, and those who were married were an inch taller on average than bachelors.

Dunbar and colleagues from the University of Wroclaw in Poland studied 3,200 men, ranging in age from their 20s to 50s, whose average height was 5 feet 6 inches. Because other studies suggest tall men have better
education and are more likely to have family wealth (the silver-spoon variety, not earned by themselves), the team controlled for education and still found that height races the pulse.

Mate selection, which is controlled by females in most species, has never been a kind process. The female, no matter what species, is basically interested in good genes and a well-provisioned nest. But within this female drive there is room for exceptions or true trade-
offs. Money and power can usually supplant height in female preferences the way rock beats scissors. After all, Al Pacino is only 5-foot-7, and Henry Kissinger is 5-foot-9.

''Taller isn't always better,'' says Bobbi Low of the University of Michigan and author of Why Sex Matters. ''The bottom line is, men want healthy young women and women want healthy men with great resource

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